Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental and Energy Policy (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Social Sciences


Adam Wellstead


By employing interpretive policy analysis this thesis aims to assess, measure, and explain policy capacity for government and non-government organizations involved in reclaiming Alberta's oil sands. Using this type of analysis to assess policy capacity is a novel approach for understanding reclamation policy; and therefore, this research will provide a unique contribution to the literature surrounding reclamation policy. The oil sands region in northeast Alberta, Canada is an area of interest for a few reasons; primarily because of the vast reserves of bitumen and the environmental cost associated with developing this resource. An increase in global oil demand has established incentive for industry to seek out and develop new reserves. Alberta's oil sands are one of the largest remaining reserves in the world, and there is significant interest in increasing production in this region. Furthermore, tensions in several oil exporting nations in the Middle East remain unresolved, and this has garnered additional support for a supply side solution to North American oil demands. This solution relies upon the development of reserves in both the United States and Canada. These compounding factors have contributed to the increased development in the oil sands of northeastern Alberta. Essentially, a rapid expansion of oil sands operations is ongoing, and is the source of significant disturbance across the region. This disturbance, and the promises of reclamation, is a source of contentious debates amongst stakeholders and continues to be highly visible in the media.

If oil sands operations are to retain their social license to operate, it is critical that reclamation efforts be effective. One concern non-governmental organizations (NGOs) expressed criticizes the current monitoring and enforcement of regulatory programs in the oil sands. Alberta's NGOs have suggested the data made available to them originates from industrial sources, and is generally unchecked by government. In an effort to discern the overall status of reclamation in the oil sands this study explores several factors essential to policy capacity: work environment, training, employee attitudes, perceived capacity, policy tools, evidence based work, and networking.

Data was collected through key informant interviews with senior policy professionals in government and non-government agencies in Alberta. The following are agencies of interest in this research: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP); Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD); Alberta Energy Regulator (AER); Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA); Alberta Environment Monitoring, Evaluation, and Reporting Agency (AEMERA); Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA).

The aim of this research is to explain how and why reclamation policy is conducted in Alberta's oil sands. This will illuminate government capacity, NGO capacity, and the interaction of these two agency typologies. In addition to answering research questions, another goal of this project is to show interpretive analysis of policy capacity can be used to measure and predict policy effectiveness. The oil sands of Alberta will be the focus of this project, however, future projects could focus on any government policy scenario utilizing evidence-based approaches.